M. Books tells us that she was inspired to write this story after "an interesting lunch experience". We wish more people were so inspired!

Lunch Break
By M. Books

Jack signaled the waiter for another cup of coffee, then glanced at his watch. Lennie was twenty minutes late, but Jack wasn't impatient. He was actually quite relaxed, enjoying a quiet moment. To someone who didn't know Jack McCoy, he would appear to be sad, his eyes hooded and his head bowed. He had practiced a serious courtroom look for so many years that it had become his normal expression, but in fact Jack was feeling better now than he had at any time in the past three years.
Following Claire's accident, he had managed to maintain his focus at work, but his personal life had gone to hell. After a year of too much scotch and too many sleepless nights, he finally realized that he had to get help. He decided to confide in Elizabeth Olivet. They were still on friendly terms, even after she had left her position as a state psychiatrist. Elizabeth hadn't taken him on as a patient because she was now working exclusively with children, but she offered him some solid advice after he agreed to promise that he'd see someone professionally if he still felt that he was in trouble after a month or so. Jack managed to start piecing his life together again bit by bit. There was no doubt that he still deeply missed Claire, but thanks to Elizabeth's suggestions, he had finally come to terms with the reality of his loss.
One of Elizabeth's suggestions to help him deal with the accident turned out to have an additional benefit. She advised Jack to talk with Lennie about the accident. They were both reluctant, but agreed to meet for lunch a couple of times. Of course they had often worked together as cop and D.A., but on a personal level they had shared the experience -- and resulting guilt -- of Claire's death. Their lunches had allowed them to talk and come to terms with that guilt, and now they had started moving beyond, becoming friends. To both Lennie and Jack's surprise, they actually found it to be a welcome respite in their schedules and it became a habit to meet once or twice a month. Their lunches usually hinged on some vague excuse to talk about a case but, in reality, they had found that they enjoyed each other's company. Their jobs provided common ground and they both welcomed the chance to confer with someone close to their own age. Both Rey and Abby were excellent counterparts, but they really didn't have the same grounding as Jack and Lennie. This was the thought rolling around inside Jack's mind at that moment.
He had a case where a seventy-year-old woman refused to testify against her husband in a murder case, even though the husband had verbally abused and belittled her their whole marriage. Abby couldn't fathom the mentality of such a woman staying with her abusive husband, but Jack most certainly could. He'd seen it first hand in his own family and knew that this was a product of the age and experiences of the time when the couple had married. Jack shook his head and thought, "Abby is so goddamn young she can't even begin to understand what it's like." He took a sip of his refilled coffee cup and paused, "Or am I getting so goddamn old?" Just then his thoughts were interrupted by a deep male voice.
"Excuse me. I noticed you sitting here the last twenty minutes, looking unhappy and I thought you might like some company."
Jack looked up to see a pleasant looking, well-dressed man in his thirties. He couldn't quite figure out what this man wanted. "I'm sorry?"
The man responded, "You looked unhappy, and you're sitting here alone. I just thought maybe I could lighten your mood."
The light dawned on Jack. He barely managed to keep his mouth from dropping open as he realized that this guy was, for all intents and purposes, making a move on him. "Ah...I'm okay, thanks. I'm just waiting for someone," he mumbled.
The man smiled slightly, nodded his head and moved off. To Jack's dismay, as the man moved away - who should be standing behind the vacated spot, but Lennie. And Lennie had a very broad grin on his face.
Without a word, Lennie slipped into the seat across from Jack and waved at the waiter.
Jack looked at Lennie with a dark expression, just daring him to make one wise-ass remark.
Lennie couldn't help but go for it. "Gee Jack, I'm sorry about the timing. I didn't mean to interrupt."
"Lennie, make an issue out of this and I'll see you walking a beat again."
"Ah, c'mon Jack, you're not bent outta shape over someone making a pass at you. Or do you always prefer to be the one who's making the move. Lord knows that's your reputation."
Jack was very uncomfortable when it came to his reputation. Years before he had earned it, but since Claire, he had changed - a lot. "Lennie, give me a break."
But Lennie wouldn't let Jack off that easy. "You're damn near sixty, Jack, and still a 'bachelor'. Maybe you haven't been looking in all the right places after all."
"Okay, okay Lennie. You've had your fun."
"But Jack..."
"Jesus, Lennie, give it up."
Lennie raised both hands in mock surrender, but the grin was still there.
Just then the man who had made the move on Jack walked past the table on his way out of the restaurant. As he passed, he looked straight at Lennie and gave him the thumbs-up. Lennie's mouth dropped and Jack's eyebrows went up. Lennie was dumfounded, "Jack, that bastard thinks that I'm...I mean, you and me..."
Jack sat back and smiled broadly, enjoying the look on Lennie's face. "So Lennie, I guess I no longer have to worry about what you're gonna say at the precinct now."
Lennie blew out a breath and shook his head, "Shit, Jack. Let's just bury this all together."
"Oh, but you were so keen to discuss this earlier."
"Forget I said a thing."
"Not bloody likely. After all you're still a bachelor at your age too."
At this point they both looked at each other and laughed. The waiter came and they put in their order. After he left, Lennie sighed and said, "You know Jack, we really are idiots. We've both been married and managed to royally screw that up."
"Some of us more often than others," Jack retorted.
"Hey, so I'm a slow learner, Jack. You're lucky you didn't have to keep paying for your dumb mistakes like I did. Which is a damn good thing, seeing as you got around a hell of a lot more than I did."
"I'm not so sure, Lennie. Your reputation..."
"Is as bad as yours."
They both nodded and chuckled.
Jack drained the rest of his coffee and asked, "So, given your reputation, how come you haven't married that girlfriend of yours yet?"
Lennie inclined his head, "I'd say I've learned my lesson. Besides, Sarah doesn't actually want to get married."
"Yeah, she thinks we'd do better if we don't do the legal dance." Lennie smiled and continued, "I guess I'd have to agree."
"Well I'm glad for you Lennie. She's a great lady and you really are a decent guy, even though I wouldn't admit that to anyone."
"Don't mention it."
The food arrived and they changed the subject to the murder case with the old man. After reviewing some of the details with Lennie, Jack felt much better about the way the facts had been gathered. "Good job Lennie. I'm sure I'll be able to make the charge stick."
Lennie nodded. "It sure sucks that the old guy decided to beat the life out of his landlord instead of taking him to court. I bet he'd have won."
Jack agreed, "He'd have been looking at a fatter bank account instead of jail time. Dumb bastard."
"Ah, you know how it used to be Jack. In the old days someone pissed you off and you beat the crap outta them. The old guy was probably pretty impressed with himself that he could pound hell out of a guy ten years younger than himself."
"It would have been a lot more impressive if he'd have managed it without the hammer." Jack leaned back in his chair and sighed, "Abby can not understand the wife sticking up for the old guy. She figures it's a perfect opportunity to make him pay for all the shit and abuse over the years."
"I know what you mean. Rey couldn't understand what the old guy was even thinking trying to solve the problem with a hammer instead of a lawsuit. He said when a guy gets that old, he should know better."
"You figure we'll 'know better' when we're that old?"
"Nah. You and I will still be wining and dining gorgeous women and occasionally swinging our fists well into our nineties, Jack. We're from the old school."
"I'll be glad if I can still lift a wine glass when I'm in my nineties."
Lennie chuckled. "Speaking of wining and dining, how's it going with you and Elizabeth?"
Jack smiled cryptically, "All right, I guess. I still feel a little guilty that I went to Elizabeth for advice in dealing with what happened to Claire, and now we're seeing each other."
Lennie chuckled, "Well if you feel guilty, Jack, a shrink is a great girlfriend. Cheap advice."
"Maybe. I just didn't know who else to turn to when things came crashing down." Jack's expression darkened as he thought back to that low point in his life.
Lennie looked over at Jack and caught the way his expression clouded over. "Jack, you feeling guilty about getting involved with 'your shrink', or about getting involved with someone other than Claire?"
Jack didn't flinch, but his voice was soft when he answered, "I gotta tell you, I still miss her."
Lennie looked down at his hands for a moment and took a deep breath. He looked back up at Jack, "You may not like what I'm gonna say, but it's something I've thought for a long while."
Jack sat quietly waiting for Lennie's comment. At this point in their friendship he knew Lennie well enough to let him have his say - and to respect his opinion.
Lennie went on, "You've got to admit that Claire was young, Jack. Damn young."
Jack nodded, unable to argue with that.
"If she hadn't died, Jack...If you two had continued on..."
Jack stopped him, "I know, Lennie. As much as I hate to admit it -- as much as it hurts to admit it -- it wouldn't have worked out happily ever after."
"I wasn't sure that you realized that."
"Believe me, it took a long time to realize it, but when you look at the honest truth of it - she was young, she was gorgeous and she was smart. After a while she would have moved on."
"I'm impressed McCoy. Most guys wouldn't have the guts to admit something like that. But then, maybe I shouldn't be surprised. After all, most guys your age wouldn't even have managed to get Claire to look at them in the first place. Especially after her experience with that judge."
Jack looked off into the distance, "I tell you, though, she was one amazing person." After a few moments he managed to bring his focus back and quietly continued, "I was incredibly lucky to have known her, Lennie."
Lennie couldn't think of anything to say to that.
They sat quietly for a while before Jack spoke again, "You know, at least I take some comfort in being with her before it happened. At least she wasn't...alone."
"Yeah. It only goes to show that you better take whatever happiness you can find, 'cause it can all end any second. Believe me, nobody knows that fact better than a cop." It was seemingly very appropriate that Lennie's beeper should choose that moment to go off. Lennie took a deep breath and pulled out his beeper to read the message. "Damn. I gotta go. You okay, Jack?"
Jack nodded and said, "Yeah. I'd better head back too. You go on, I'll catch the bill this time."
"Okay, thanks. Listen, if you want to grab a club soda after work..."
Jack smiled, almost sadly, "Nah. Got a date with my shrink."
Lennie dropped his napkin on his plate and got up. He patted Jack on the shoulder and said, "Hey. Have a good time, Counselor."
Jack smiled -- a bit more this time. "I'll give it my best shot, Detective."


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